Japanese team bounce back in superb style
After their Friday problems, Toyota were delighted on Saturday when Jarno Trullis lap of 1m 10.625s proved insuperable and left the Italian on pole position for the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis.
Trulli was the 10th driver out in the hour-long session, and his performance displaced previous pacesetter Jenson Button, who had been the ninth man out and had lapped his BAR in 1m 11.277s.
It is not likely that they are running the same refuelling strategies.
Neither of the Ferraris, with Rubens Barrichello running 18th and Michael Schumacher 19th, could get close to the Japanese car. The Brazilians 1m 11.431s lap left him seventh overall, the Germans 1m 11.369s was fifth.
The one man who might have displaced Trulli was Canadian Grand Prix victor Kimi Raikkonen in the McLaren, and the Finn had a good lap. But 1m 10.694s came up 0.069s short.
Im quite happy, the car was good, Raikkonen said with the air of a man who knows that he is in very good shape.
This time Raikkonen wont have to worry quite so much about his team mate Juan Pablo Montoya. Running second, the Colombian had to be content with a lap in 1m 11.681s, which left him way down in 11th place and not very happy about it.
The Renaults will be a threat, and after Fernando Alonsos speed this morning it is likely that both were carrying reasonable fuel loads. Giancarlo Fisichella lines up fourth with 1m 11.290s, Alonso sixth, alongside Schumacher, on 1m 11.380s. The difference in their lap times could easily be explained by one running a laps more fuel.
Alongside Barrichello is Takuma Sato, the Japanese driver posting 1m 11.497s, while the fifth row will hold Williams Mark Webber (1m 11.527s) and Saubers Felipe Massa (1m 11.555s). Jacques Villeneuve in the second Sauber will share the sixth row with Montoya, after lapping in 1m 11.691s. Half a second covers the 11 cars from third place down to 13th, as Ralf Schumachers stand in, Ricardo Zonta, pushed his TF105 round in 1m 11.754s despite being the first man out and therefore running when the track was at its dirtiest.
Christian Klien out-qualified Red Bull team leader David Coulthard, the Austrian lapping in 1m 12.132s for 14th compared to the Scots 1m 12.682s for 16th. They sandwiched Nick Heidfeld, who pedalled his Williams to 1m 12.430s.
Christijan Albers seemed to have Minardi-Jordan battle sewn up with a lap of 1m 13.632s, but Tiago Monteiro had other ideas and pushed ahead into 17th place with 1m 13.462s. Narain Karthikeyan is 19th on 1m 13.776s, and Patrick Friesacher completes the grid on 1m 14.494s.
So thats the grid. It now remains to be seen who races, and on what rubber, after Michelin admitted they may not be able to recommend their teams racing on their current tyres. It follows Toyotas two tyre-related incidents on Friday, the cause of which Michelin have still been unable to pin down.
They have despatched Barcelona-specification tyres from their base at Clermont-Ferrand in France and the shipment is due to arrive in Indianapolis on Sunday morning. These tyres have stiffer sidewalls to cope with the high G loadings on the Circuit de Catalunya. However, it is not simply a matter of the FIA, via the stewards, considering a mass appeal from the Michelin runners to be allowed to substitute the new rubber.
Before practice this morning, Michelin advised teams on rear suspension camber angles and tyre pressures to alleviate chances of other cars experiencing the problems that hit Zonta and Schumacher Jnr on Friday, and nobody had any serious problems in either practice or qualifying. So some Michelin teams will want to stay with what they have, especially as they have had the chance to assess it in practice. However, some may be worried about tyre wear, which may be exacerbated by the mandated increase in tyre pressure which, in conjunction with the camber changes, has in some cases resulted in oversteer.
It is unlikely that final decisions will be taken until Sunday morning, but it is important to bear in mind that the problems have only concerned two Toyotas. Nobody else has experienced any problems. However, Renault chief Flavio Briatore said that if authorisation is not forthcoming from the FIA to switch tyres, Renault will not race.